introducing readers to writers since 1995

July 16, 2005

Author2Author: Andrew Winston & Adam Langer (Bonus Round)

by Ron Hogan

Andrew Winston: My wife and I had our second child during the production phase of Looped. I was reading copyedited manuscript pages the first week he was home. You had your first child recently, as The Washington Story was in galleys. I am wondering what thoughts you have had about your writing in relation to becoming a father. Has it cast a new light on some of your preoccupations as a writer? Have you thought about any of your old work in a new way or been in any way surprised by new thoughts about your book in the works?

Adam Langer: Gosh. The fatherhood question. Since you're the father of two and I've only been a father for, umm, less than four weeks, you're undoubtedly better qualified to answer that one than I am. I'm not sure how being a parent has affected or will affect my writing, other than the facts that I seem to have less time to do it and that I now know for sure that whoever compared writing a novel to giving birth was so wrong it's scary.

I don't feel that I'm becoming a different writer yet. Though I'd like to write a children's novel some day, something in the vein of Huck Finn or Michael Chabon's Summerland, my characters still seem to be swearing as much as they always have, and I'm still listening to as much loud music as I can while I write. The one thing I hope to be able to say is not so much that parenting has made me look at writing differently, but that writing has made me look at parenting differently. When I was writing Crossing California and The Washington Story, and now that I'm writing the new, as-yet-untitled, not-set-in-Chicago tome, I have felt a need not to judge my characters, not to mold them to suit my purposes. Whatever readers and critics have said about the supposed cynicism of my work or the negative feelings I'm supposed to have about some of my characters, I can honestly say that I try to like all of them equally and, even when they behave poorly, to understand why. I hope these qualities will make me a better parent. Some day, my daughter will be able to tell me if they do.

I've really enjoyed this conversation, Andy, and hope we can chat in person some time soon . Now, it's your turn to wrap up. What are you writing now and how is your role as a parent affecting the way you are writing it?

Andrew Winston: The loss of time, as you note, is the key change in morphing from a writer into a writer-with-kids. For me this has put flesh on the struggle between selfishness and selflessness. Writing and parenting are two things that rule your life with almost totalitarian thoroughness, and to be good at both you need to cultivate forms of selflessness. But while writing demands a generous imagination that ranges far outside the self, the work and the recognition is essentially a celebration of the individual. Maybe I have it a bit worse than others since I work a full-time job, too, and my time at the desk is deducted directly from my time to do anything else for or with my family. So it can feel selfish to put so much energy into writing when a small household of loving people wants--and deserves--every bit of that energy focused on them. I have no solution to this tension. It's just there, a constant hum.

As for the affect of being a relatively new parent (I have a three year-old and an eight month-old) on my writing, I think it has focused me even more on being honest in the work. I am currently in the first draft of a novel set against the backdrop of the 1981 creation science trial in Little Rock, and trying hard once again to be as charitable with the characters I find the hardest to understand. That's where I will find the heart of the book and whatever will be good about it.

In a sense I am more aware of creating a legacy for my children, although I don't really think about that in any conscious way. I did abandon one project that I no longer felt comfortable with, imagining it in a future library where my child would pull it down and reshelve it in, I don't know, hermeneutics, hoping no one would ever find it.

Lastly, I could not agree more that birthing analogies to publishing a novel should be put to rest forever. Experiencing the specificity of the event kind of robs birth of its metaphorical utility. Certainly my wife would argue that until I have to pass the galleys through my intestines, I should not draw any comparisons. And after watching the process rather helplessly and yet awestruck, I would not gainsay her right to a firm opinion on that.

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